The commercial potential of Smart Home systems is leading to fragmentation; the enemy of innovation. Can a cross-vendor platform bring it all together?
By Holger Knöpke, Head of Connected Home, Deutsche Telekom.
From energy saving through monitoring your home in your absence, to setting the lighting mood for a comfortable evening watching TV, in the Smart Home there are many ways to make living more energy-efficient, safer and comfortable. Previously, controlling functions of this kind around the home tended to be the preserve of the well-to-do, but that is changing now that everybody can afford the services of an energy manager, a caretaker, a security service, or a butler. Not as a real person but rather using an electronically connected home help. Ways to control and monitor your home by smartphone, tablet or PC are growing more and more extensive and less and less expensive. And forecasts reflect this trend, according to management consultants, Deloitte, the Smart Home market is set to grow to over £3.24bn a year by 2017. For the period 2011 to 2016, the market research institute Research and Markets even expects the global volume of Smart Home business to double to over £28bn.
Many companies now realise that the Smart Home is a highly promising market; that, indeed, is the problem. For fear of missing out on the trend many firms are developing proprietary Smart Home solutions; with a uniform standard yet to be established these offerings use a wide range of different protocols and the result is a Babylonian confusion of languages and incompatible solutions. Generally these products cover one or just a few applications, so it isn’t surprising that a Deloitte study predicts the future of the Smart Home may now hinge on platforms, on which consumers can use several manufacturers’ solutions. For a cross-vendor solution of this kind to be successful it is essential for manufacturers to collaborate with other market players.
The first cross-vendor platform
Developed by Deutsche Telekom, Qivicon is the first cross-vendor Smart Home platform on the German market, where it has been successful since late 2013. The platform already consists of more than 30 partner companies in many different industries and is thus developing more and more into a Smart Home standard. It aims to take the Smart Home forward and offer customers cross-vendor solutions. Qivicon and its partner companies’ offerings cover areas such as energy efficiency, security, and comfort for people of all ages. The platform has won several awards for its innovative approach and technical implementation – such as management consultants Frost & Sullivan’s accolade for it being the most innovative Smart Home solution of 2014.
The solution relies on wireless protocols that are optimised for the Smart Home. Using wireless communication, systems can be installed without ripping up walls and laying cumbersome cables. Old buildings and rented properties are thus easily and swiftly fitted out with smart home control technology. And if you move, you can simply take the solution with you and set it up again in your new home. Deutsche Telekom’s approach is to merge the seriously fragmented landscape of Smart Home solutions; any company, regardless of which industry it operates in, whether it is a startup or large group, can use the Qivicon platform to develop solutions and apps of its own and offer them to its customers. The more companies that offer products, the more applications the consumer can then use on this one Smart Home platform.
Many of the 30+ partners in the Qivicon platform are companies that do business internationally. They include Samsung, Philips, Miele, D-Link, Kärcher, Belkin, and Telekom. Consumers are now able to freely combine the different offerings. Every partner company, irrespective of its size, can define its own product, price, communication and sales strategy. Depending on its strategic alignment it can use Qivicon either to bind customers or to expand its area of business.
Partners the easy way
So far, Qivicon is only available in Germany, but negotiations are under way with interested parties to soon provide the platform and partner products in the UK and other European countries. Deutsche Telekom is currently receiving many enquiries from companies that are keen to open up the Smart Home market for their products, which will then be offered on the platform. In principle, any company can become a Qivicon partner and dock onto the platform, as it were. To make this process as simple as possible, a special partner program has been developed, with a suitable business model both for large companies and small startups.
At present, it is difficult to say how many products will be on offer in the countries in question and when they will be available for sale, but the prospects for Smart Home products selling well in the UK are definitely not bad. According to the Office for National Statistics, 83% of UK households have an Internet connection and over half of the population has mobile access to the Internet.
Qivicon’s core module is its Home Base. Irrespective of the telco it is hooked up to, any broadband Internet connection allows remote control of electrical equipment in the house or home wirelessly. The Home Base serves an interface between the different devices and functions. It can be accessed easily, reliably and securely via the partner companies’ apps by smartphone, tablet or PC at home or out and about. The Home Base connects devices such as wireless connectors, heating thermostats, motion detectors and smoke alarms.
Consumers control their Smart Home via an app supplied by the partner company in question. Some apps have focal points. An app developed by the German power utility EnBW, for example, controls the heating and another the lighting. The Deutsche Telekom app enables comprehensive home control. They can also be used for complicated applications. Energy-conscious users click on their smartphones as they leave their home to switch all the lights off. If a user is connected to a wireless smoke alarm the alarm sends an automatic alert to the user’s smartphone if smoke is detected. Smart Home products can also impressively deter burglars. If the motion detector notices anything unusual going on at the back of the house the Smart Home control switches lighting on and plays music to simulate somebody being at home.
Smart control of devices and functions around the home was long the preserve of technology fans and the well-to-do. Home control and facility management is now developing into a mass market. Those who are interested should, however, opt for standard-based solutions with which they can combine several devices.